Milwaukee, WI asked in Appeals / Appellate Law, Criminal Law and Legal Malpractice for Michigan

Q: My friend pled not guilty to murder at bench jury. Sentenced guilty for life w/ little evidence & no suspects. Appeal?

Accused of murder, 1st degree by shooting of his girlfriend's mother. He had a key to the house as he was with his girlfriend for 4+ years. Bullets found at scene didn't match gun found on him. No blood found on him nor his clothing. A jacket he owns found to have similar fibers as found on victim. His blood found at house yet no marks found on him nor his blood on victim. Her purse found close to a place he stopped at during night of murder. He had a bench jury, pled not guilty, and was sentenced to life. Victim had an ex husband who she got along with and a boyfriend. Many other suspects who were neglected to be put in question.

1 Lawyer Answer

Brent T. Geers

Answered
  • Criminal Law Lawyer
  • Grand Rapids, MI
  • Licensed in Michigan

A: To appeal or not depends on too many factors to answer convincingly in this forum. I'll address some inconsistencies in your question that hopefully will let you better understand the state of your loved one's case.

I am unsure whether your friend plead guilty or was found guilty at trial. Your question indicates a "bench jury". A trial by judge alone is called a bench trial; a trial with a jury determining guilt or innocence is called a jury trial. At any rate, it appears that some entity - whether a judge or a jury - determined that your friend was guilty of murder.

The difficulty in appealing trials is that evidence was presented, and the trier of fact (either the judge or the jury, depending on type of trial) made determinations as to what it believed based on that evidence. In turn, your friend's attorney had an opportunity to present other facts or theories, which the judge or jury was free to accept as true or not.

If your friend had a trial, he has the right to appeal. Given that he is serving a life sentence, it's certainly worth having an appellant attorney take a look at the case to see what can be done.

If he plead guilty at some stage - it is somewhat common for people charged with 1st degree murder to plead guilty to 2nd degree murder to be parole eligible - his appellate options are far more limited as by entering a guilty plea, he admitted out of his own mouth the facts necessary to sustain the conviction. In that scenario, it wouldn't really matter if the police looked for other suspects or what the investigation found or didn't find.

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